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Centrifugal Force Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

Imagine sitting on a merry-go-round. As you spin, you might feel as though you could be pulled right out of your seat. What causes this feeling of being pushed outward? The answer is centrifugal force. Read on to explore more about this common concept.

What is Centrifugal Force?

Let's say you're riding in a car or on a bike. You're moving at a constant speed, but when you stop, your body leans forward. When you begin to move again, your body will lean backward. What you've just experienced is inertia, which is the tendency of an object to resist rest or motion. You probably experience inertia multiple times a day. How cool is that?

Just as objects in motion are subject to the properties of resisting motion and rest with inertia, they also want to move in as straight a line as possible. Sometimes an object can't move in a straight line, so it moves in the straightest line it can.

Think of a tetherball. When a tetherball is hit or thrown it tries to move in a straight line but can't because it's pulled on by the string, which is anchored to the pole. This is an example of centrifugal force, or the energy of an object trying to go in a straight line when it cannot.

It's important to remember that centrifugal force is only relevant when an object is moving in a circular motion. In other words, you feel centrifugal force when you're seated on a merry-go-round, but your friend watching you from the ground doesn't, since he's not moving or experiencing inertia.

Tetherball is an example of centrifugal force at work.
Tetherball

Earth's revolution is another example of this concept. We know that the earth revolves around the sun. Earth is in constant motion and wants to travel in a straight line, but like the tetherball attached to the pole with a string, the sun's gravity pulls on the earth. Because the earth's mass and momentum (constant motion) are in balance with the sun's gravitational pull, it can't be sucked into the sun. Instead, the earth keeps a constant distance and ends up moving in a circle around the sun.

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